The formula

If there were a formula for turning paper into gold, and you had it, what would you do with it? You’d use it and get rich, why not? If there were a formula for turning water into gasoline, and you had it… Hey, no more $3, $4 a gallon fill ups, right? If you knew the formula for living a successful life, and you could apply it, wouldn’t you?

What’s a formula?

It has to make sense

Scientists and Mathematicians use the word all the time. It simply means a prescription or a set of instructions that, if you follow it, from beginning to end, will take you from point A – where you are – to point B – where you want to be.

A formula only makes sense if it actually works. I mean, people have claimed to come up with all sorts of weird recipes for doing something, something that will benefit you, and they tell you, “Hey: Join my club, give me this much money, and I’ll share the secret with you.” And you know that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But formulas in Science, in Engineering, in Math, are real things, they work: They give you the means to solve the problem you are trying to solve.

painting of Saint Luke
St. Luke the Evangelist by Vladimir Borovikovsky

Why am I talking about formulas today? Because my sermon today is from The Gospel according to Luke. And Luke was a Medical Doctor, a Physician, in other words, a scientist. Not only that, in all likelihood, he heard the gospel and was saved under the Apostle Paul’s preaching. We know from the book of Acts that Luke traveled with Paul in many of his missionary journeys.

And I think this is significant because that would be the perfect partnership. Paul was a brilliant man. He not only was an expert in Judaism (he was educated as a Pharisee by the greatest teacher of his time, Gamaliel) he also understood the Greeks, their History, their poetry, their religion – he could even go toe to toe debating with their philosophers – and he was born a Roman citizen, perfectly acquainted with the laws of Rome.

I say this partnership would be perfect because given their backgrounds we can surmise that both Luke and Paul were deep thinkers.

Painting of Saint Paul preaching in Athens
Saint Paul preaching in Athens by Raphael

Look at it from Luke’s standpoint: What scientists value the most is logic. For a scientist to believe something, it has to make sense. To every effect there must be a cause. We all hope that that is what medical doctors believe. If I, as a patient, have symptoms a through d, then I am hoping the doctor uses that knowledge to deduce “Rudy has this sickness”, and then I hope he says: “and the best cure for that sickness is this medicine.” Right? But, if the doctor looks at me, and then goes and spins the wheel of fortune, and wherever that stops is my diagnosis, I’m in trouble.

All this to tell you that Christianity, the Story of Jesus, had to make logical sense to Luke. And that’s why he set out to write his gospel.

Luke 1:1-4 Forasmuch as many have undertaken to draw up a relation concerning the matters fully believed among us, as those who from the beginning were eye-witnesses of and attendants on the Word have delivered them to us, it has seemed good to *me* also, accurately acquainted from the origin with all things, to write to thee with method, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things in which thou hast been instructed.

This is the way Luke starts. Many have undertaken to write a narrative of what happened, what we claim to believe, the way we were taught by the eyewitnesses and attendants of the Word (Jesus disciples and apostles). So, Luke says, I decided to write also, because I have researched it from the beginning, and I am writing it to you with method, so that you can be certain of what you have believed.

I used Darby’s translation here because most other translations say Luke decided to write an orderly account, but Darby translates that word – katecheo – as writing with method. And the point is that the Greek word used there can mean an orderly account or a sequence of events BUT it also means a way of teaching: A method the classical Greeks used whereby the teacher asks questions and the student has to reply, in order to prove that the student is learning and understanding. It is a way of ingraining in the student, cause and effect.

You see, Luke’s account is not in chronological order. It is not in the order that things happened. You can verify that by reading the other gospels. So, in what order is it? To me it is in logical order. Luke’s goal is to go through the gospel in such a way as to give you, the reader, the proof that you need to be certain of what you have believed.

One thing you realize immediately once you read that introduction, and start reading his gospel, is that Luke assumes you are acquainted with the story already. That’s why he says: concerning the matters fully believed among us. He assumes you have heard the story; you have embraced it by believing it or at least hoping it is all true. And now you are ready to kick your education up, one more notch. Luke is saying: Let’s go over it again and see why it makes perfect sense.

Luke is going to give us the formula to understand the power of the gospel. So, as you read Luke’s gospel, I invite you to think about each section and figure out what “cause and effect” he is trying to get us to grasp.

Putting the pieces together

photo of child putting a lego toy together

For example: In the beginning of the gospel he starts with the story of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus. And he does that by giving us the details of what happened in the background and how it all came together, to the point that the Savior of the world was born, as promised by God. That’s the cause and effect with which he starts: God had a plan, and He maneuvered every person, every leader, in fact, all of History, so that this Savior would be born among us at that time.

And if you read the story from chapter 1 through 2 you get the following understanding: A Savior, for all people (not just Jews but all people) was born that day, and that salvation means the remission of our sins. That word remission is a legal term it means the cancellation of the debt or penalty that was on me.

This now takes us to chapter 3 of Luke and the story of John the Baptist. And just as he did with the Nativity, Luke puts the beginning of John’s ministry in the context of what was happening in the world at that time. In other words: This is the time in the history of the world, and the history of God’s people, that God chose to do this.

Luke 3:1-6 Now in the fifteenth year of the government of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Ituraea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, [the] word of God came upon John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.

And he came into all the district round the Jordan, preaching [the] baptism of repentance for [the] remission of sins, as it is written in [the] book of [the] words of Esaias the prophet: Voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of [the] Lord, make straight his paths. Every gorge shall be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked [places] shall become a straight [path], and the rough places smooth ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

So starts chapter 3. Notice that he is reinforcing the things he taught us already with the Nativity. John came to proclaim a Baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. This was God’s plan all along – prophesied by Isaiah. And it is meant for the salvation of all flesh.

photo of man fitting in one piece of a jigsaw puzzle

Having heard this thought twice, Salvation for me means the remission, the forgiveness of my sins. The student is now thinking… OK, that is God’s intent, but how does it work? What is the mechanism, what is the formula? We just got one more piece of information here: Repentance!

What was Baptism all about? Those that asked John to baptize them, did so, confessing their sins – we know this from the other gospels. So, confessing those sins, repenting of them is part of the formula. Let’s read on:

Luke 3:7 He said therefore to the crowds which went out to be baptised by him, Offspring of vipers, who has forewarned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce therefore fruits worthy of repentance; and begin not to say in yourselves, We have Abraham for [our] father, for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And already also the axe is applied to the root of the trees; every tree therefore not producing good fruit is cut down and cast into [the] fire.

If this is the first time you have read the gospel you would say, “Wow, John, can’t we be a little more tactful? How are you going to get people to come to you to get baptized if you are calling them snakes?”

But remember, Luke assumes you are already familiar with the story. If you read Matthew, you understand that John reacted this way, not at the whole crowd assembled there confessing and asking to be Baptized, but rather, he was addressing the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law that he saw coming also with the crowd. Coming to see what was going on… but not to be baptized. Because, again if you have already read the story, you know the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Teachers of the Law thought they did not need repentance, they thought they did everything right, and that therefore God was happy with them.

Now, at this point Luke doesn’t single them out because he doesn’t want to bias us from the very beginning against them. He is going to mention them plenty of times later, and he will let us reach our own conclusion about them.

photo of man chopping down tree

So, we listen to John say what he said and take it to heart: This Salvation is about escaping the wrath of God, the deserved consequences of our sins. And there is no free ticket in. Just because you are a Jew, a descendant of Abraham, one of God’s chosen people, doesn’t mean you are free and clear. If the tree is not giving good fruit, God is just as happy to chop it down.

And the student says, Aha! Here is one more piece of information! This Salvation for all people through the forgiveness of sins not only requires repentance AND acting on that repentance – in this case being baptized – it requires one more thing yet: Produce therefore fruits worthy of repentance.

Let’s go on:

What are the fruits?

Luke 3:10-14 And the crowds asked him saying, What should we do then? And he answering says to them, He that has two body-coats, let him give to him that has none; and he that has food, let him do likewise.

And tax-gatherers came also to be baptised, and they said to him, Teacher, what should we do? And he said to them, Take no more [money] than what is appointed to you.

And persons engaged in military service also asked him saying, And we, what should we do? And he said to them, Oppress no one, nor accuse falsely, and be satisfied with your pay.

What are the fruits worthy of repentance? The fruits that prove I indeed have had my sins forgiven.

photo of different kinds of fruit

If I see someone hungry or shivering in the cold: Give them what they need from what I have. What is that called? It’s called Compassion, Mercy… it’s called Love.

Tax gatherers, who were despised by most Jews because they saw them as traitors, sold out to Rome, collecting their taxes for them – and probably collecting more than was due to keep some themselves… John doesn’t tell them to quit that job. He tells them, do what is just; don’t cheat the people.

And to soldiers, especially Roman soldiers, who had all sorts of power among an occupied people: Don’t abuse that power, but be satisfied with what you have.

Do you know what John has just replied? Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee: But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.

So, here is the complete formula for salvation:

  • Repent of your sins
  • And believe God wants to forgive them – baptism is a symbol of that
  • Then He will
  • And the result in your life will be the Love of God and Love for His people.

Repentance + faith = forgiveness of sins which produces Love.

The focus of Faith

Luke has outlined this formula here at the beginning. The one point he hasn’t fleshed out completely yet is that second step: Faith. We recognize it because the crowds that came to him demonstrated that faith: They believed there was forgiveness to be had, by being baptized. Think about it: You don’t do something unless you believe it is going to work. But why? How did that Baptism come to have the power of belief?

John explains that in the exchange that follows, when people ask him if he is the Christ, the Messiah. And he says: Luke 3: 16 John answered all, saying, *I* indeed baptise you with water, but the mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not fit to unloose; *he* shall baptise you with [the] Holy Spirit and fire...

In other words, this baptism is a picture, is a representation of a greater truth, of a greater One, that is about to take center stage. He is the center of this whole story of Salvation because He is coming with the power of the Holy Spirit.

As the gospel progresses from this point, we get introduced to Jesus. We see Him tempted in the desert by the devil, and yet Jesus does not stumble; He does not sin. In fact, He defeats the devil using the Word of God. If you have read the other gospels you realize He is no ordinary man, He does miracles; He heals people. And when Luke picks up the story, he picks his return to Nazareth, where Jesus makes it plain why He is the focus of this Salvation:

Luke 4: 16-21 And he came to Nazareth, where he was brought up; and he entered, according to his custom, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read. And [the] book of the prophet Esaias was given to him; and having unrolled the book he found the place where it was written, [The] Spirit of [the] Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach glad tidings to [the] poor; he has sent me to preach to captives deliverance, and to [the] blind sight, to send forth [the] crushed delivered, to preach [the] acceptable year of [the] Lord.

And having rolled up the book, when he had delivered it up to the attendant, he sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon him. And he began to say to them, To-day this scripture is fulfilled in your ears.

There for all to hear, Jesus declared it: He is the Salvation that was promised by God: He has come to set the captives free.

So, this is the formula:

Repentance + Faith in Jesus = forgiveness of sins which produces Love.

Throughout the gospel, Luke will keep adding to our understanding of this Salvation, of God’s plan, including our role in spreading it. But he will, as all good Teachers, keep repeating the key points so we don’t forget. So, let me take you to Chapter 7.

The formula at work

painting of the woman anointing Jesus' feet
The Anointing by William Brassey Hole

Luke 7:36-38 But one of the Pharisees begged him (Jesus) that he would eat with him. And entering into the house of the Pharisee he took his place at table; and behold, a woman in the city, who was a sinner, and knew that he was sitting at meat in the house of the Pharisee, having taken an alabaster box of myrrh, and standing at his feet behind [him] weeping, began to wash his feet with tears; and she wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed [them] with the myrrh.

Pause there for a moment and get the picture. This religious leader invites Jesus to dinner. And, by the way, people in those days didn’t sit on chairs at table. They sat on cushions reclining on the floor around a low table in the center. But anyway, you can imagine who the rest of the guests are, right? Important people of the town, more Pharisees, Teachers of the Law, and so forth. All people, who we know, believe that they are the cream of the crop, the good guys… And into this house steps this woman, who everybody knew was a sinner. So, you can guess what kind of woman she was.

If you were one of those highfalutin guests, what would be your reaction? What is SHE doing here? What was she thinking? If you were her, and you knew what all these people thought of you, you might be asking yourself the same question, What was I thinking? But she comes in, stands behind Jesus and starts to cry. And as her tears fall down, they fall on Jesus’ feet, feet that are dusty and muddy from walking on the dirt roads. And she does the only thing that makes sense to her, she kneels down and starts washing those feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair. And then she opens up the alabaster box of precious perfume she brought, and pours it out on his feet. Let’s go on:

Luke 7:39-43 And the Pharisee who had invited him, seeing it, spoke with himself saying, This [person] if he were a prophet would have known who and what the woman is who touches him, for she is a sinner.

And Jesus answering said to him, Simon, I have somewhat to say to thee. And he says, Teacher, say [it]. There were two debtors of a certain creditor: one owed five hundred denarii and the other fifty; but as they had nothing to pay, he forgave both of them [their debt]: [say,] which of them therefore will love him most?

And Simon answering said, I suppose he to whom he forgave the most. And he said to him, Thou hast rightly judged.

photo of alabaster jar

Luke 7:44-50 And turning to the woman he said to Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house; thou gavest me not water on my feet, but *she* has washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me not a kiss, but *she* from the time I came in has not ceased kissing my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint, but *she* has anointed my feet with myrrh. For which cause I say to thee, Her many sins are forgiven; for she loved much; but he to whom little is forgiven loves little. And he said to her, Thy sins are forgiven.

And they that were with [them] at table began to say within themselves, Who is this who forgives also sins? And he said to the woman, Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace.

One of my favorite stories; and here again inside it is the formula:

  • What saved her? Jesus said it: her faith.
  • How was she saved by that faith? Her sins were forgiven.
  • How do we know her sins were forgiven? Because she Loved.

That’s it.

Have you ever hoped there was a way out… a way to fix everything that has gone wrong in your life? If you have come to the conclusion that this world is a mess… If you know that the hopes, the happiness, the fulfillment that you have been seeking is just nowhere to be found in this world. Then you and I have reached the same conclusion: the problem is not the world… the problem is us. We are the world. We have made the world the way it is. And it is a mess because we all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. But Jesus came to bring us the way out. It is called Salvation.

And Luke gives us the formula:

Repent from my sins + Believe that Jesus is who He said He is, and that He came for the express purpose of forgiving my sins + Asking, therefore, I am forgiven + and now, forgiven, I am free, free to live the Love of Jesus in my life.

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